Chelyabinsk: A 'Gift' for World War II Veterans

One new trend that's sprung up since 1995 is the opening of special apartment buildings for World War II veterans. Sixty years after the war ended, the number of those veterans is dwindling rapidly, but several cities -- including Khabarovsk and Chelyabinsk -- have recently poured big money into spiffy new "Houses of Veterans."

Following up on our theme of how pensioners are living, we decided to check out Chelyabinsk's House of Veterans, which opened just two weeks ago. David and I trekked out to the city's northwest region, a nondescript area of block-like apartments, and walked through the grounds of the giant, concrete-gray Emergency Hospital to reach the veterans' home in the back.



Chelyabinsk's new House of Veterans offers free housing, and social services, for veterans of World War II. (David Hillegas

Decorated with cheery yellow and orange paint, with picnic tables, benches and even a small "summer stage" for concerts in front, it looked like a pretty inviting place. And when Director Irina Mananova took us on a whirlwind tour of the building's first floor, I was surprised at how elaborate the services were.

The home offers free on-site medical and psychological services, as well as aromatherapy and herbal therapy. There's a library with chessboards, a "winter garden" sitting room, a laundry room, and a planning room, where "the more active babushki can come plan parties," Mananova said. The 100-seat activities hall converts into a dance floor -- and it even boasts a karaoke machine. "Active babushki," indeed.

Social workers stand at the ready to serve the residents in any conceivable way. As Mananova put it, "They'll do the grocery shopping; the resident can just fill out a form for what he needs. They'll clean the windows, they'll take the garbage out." Forty-four employees, from doctors to social workers to the accountant, staff a building that houses 165 residents. And all the services are free.

It's an impressive operation, paid for entirely by the city and regional government. But it did make me wonder -- why now? Why, when so many years had passed, were all these Russian cities just now building these Houses of Veterans?

"This is like a gift for the 60-year anniversary of the end of the war," said Mananova, adding that the government does "a lot more for veterans of the war now -- all the more so because they're at the age now where every year, there are fewer of them."

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World War II veterans have always enjoyed special status here, partly because the war looms so large in Russian consciousness. Unlike the U.S., where the attack on Pearl Harbor was the only incursion onto its soil, Russia suffered years of bloody fighting on its land. In fact, the Russian name for the war against the Germans is "The Great Patriotic War."

Estimates of how many Russians died as a result of the war vary, but 20 million is a widely accepted figure. By comparison, around 400,000 Americans are estimated to have died in the war. It would be wrong to minimize America's role in the victory in Europe. Still it's always been surprising to me how little non-Russians seem to know about the Soviet Union's enormous role in that war -- and its even more enormous sacrifice.

Okay, that's it for my public service announcement. Tomorrow: What I saw in Chelyabinsk that made me feel like I was home already.

By Lisa Dickey |  October 20, 2005; 10:15 AM ET
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According to one of my college professors, a big reason for Americans' ignorance of the Soviet Union's huge role in WWII was efforts in the U.S. to downplay the role they had played. It's natural for any country to emphasize its own significance and downplay others', but this was a more concerted effort due to Cold War animosity.

Posted by: William | October 20, 2005 12:26 PM

I visted Odessa in the summer of 1995 with the US Navy. I was only 21 but had a veteran come up to me and thank me for saving his country. When I looked at him he could only say "thank you, Lend Lease Act America saved us." I will never forget that or the park that Odessa created on the battelfield were they made there stand against the Nazi army.

Posted by: John | October 20, 2005 03:34 PM

Thanks for the article. I'm glad to see something is being done for Russian WWII veterans. Recently, I've been thinking that as a gesture to Russian WWII veterans, the US gov't, or perhaps a private US entity, should do something for the people that sacrificed the most to defeat Hitler. It is not right that German WWII veterans are living in far superior conditions than our Russian allies.

Posted by: Mark | October 20, 2005 03:47 PM

If we have any facilities in the U.S. like the Russian "Houses of Veterans", I'm not aware of them. Sure, we have often-decrepit Veterans' Admnistration hospitals where the most indigent and ill can live out their lives, and many fine retirement centers and private nursing homes where those with the ability to pay can receive good treatment. But it's shameful that it took us until a couple of years ago to even build a WW II memorial in DC, long after most of the veterans had passed on or were unable to travel to see it.

Some of this may be the result of the "Greatest Generation's" near-universal desire not to talk about the war, but just to get on with their lives. Until he died, my own WW II-veteran father never talked about his experiences as a forward artillery observer in the Battle of the Bulge, except to relate a few comical incidents. Maybe it's the old squeaky wheel theory at work: the vets never complained, so they never got Houses of Veterans. But it's not too late. I believe that the last remaining Australian veteran of World War ONE just died, so we should still have significant numbers of WWII vets with us for a little longer.

Posted by: Scott | October 20, 2005 04:01 PM

Right out of college, I went to Russia to witness the 50th Anniversary of VE Day. Parades & fireworks happened all over Russia on this National Holiday. The defeat of Nazi Germany is something the people of Russia are extremely proud of-& rightfully so. It is great to see they are continuing to honor the men & women who accomplished this incredible feat.

Posted by: Nick | October 20, 2005 07:27 PM

I know this will be the most uneducated comment (and maybe for that reason alone i should say it), all i know of the russian effort is thru a movie called - Enemy at the gates.
while watching the movie i wondered how close it was to truth.

Posted by: someone less than 25 | October 21, 2005 12:29 AM

Open-minded article, despite all of my expectations.
Thanks.

Posted by: from Chelyabinsk | October 24, 2005 01:55 AM

A wonderful article!

I'm putting together a website devoted to WWII. One of the pages within my site is Honoring WWII Veterans. I'd love to find some Russian veterans (or families of veterans) and tell their story. Please let me know if you..or your readers..might know of anyone who'd be interested in being honored.

Thank You!
WWII Remembered
http://www.geocities.com/ww2_remembered

Posted by: Mike Reeser | January 31, 2006 06:36 PM

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